SUNDANCE WATCH: Williams remembered, come for the tacos

24 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Sundance Film Review: ‘Misery Loves Comedy’.

Actor Kevin Pollak lines up the stars for his directorial debut, “Misery Loves Comedy,” a documentary exploration that cuts loose without ever cutting deep.Ahead of the film’s Park City world premiere today, Tribeca Film has snapped up North American rights to comedian Kevin Pollak’s directorial debut “Misery Loves Company.” This Heretic Films and NewAley Pictures coproduction features an array of comic talking heads, including Tom Hanks, Jimmy Fallon, Amy Schumer, Judd Apatow, Jon Favreau, Lisa Kudrow, Larry David, Steve Coogan, Jim Gaffigan, and Whoopi Goldberg.

While Pollak poses some provocative questions behind the camera — including the inquiry that inspires the title, “Do you have to be miserable to be funny?” — his parade of celebrity talking heads only skim the surface of the comedic mind. Pollak melds in-depth interviews with famous funny men and women who offer anecdotes and insights from the comedy underbelly to reveal the strangeness—and “Misery,” we can safely surmise—hidden beneath the profession. Packing far more laughs than your average doc, the Tribeca Film acquisition could generate limited theatrical interest but seems a more logical fit for premium cable or digital outlets.

The comedy circuit is a world that Pollack — a stand-up comedian and actor from films such as “Grumpy Old Men” and “A Few Good Men” — understands intimately. The opportunity to collect amusing anecdotes from the likes of Christopher Guest, Larry David, Martin Short, Steve Coogan and Tom Hanks is as good as any reason to make a film, but Pollak positions this project as if he’s up to something more. “Do you think emotionally questionable people are drawn to standup/performing?” Guest reads aloud from Pollak’s question list in the opening montage. Lining up well-known comedians to riff on tragedy as the basis for comedy is a sharp idea, and a documentary doesn’t need to become a full-fledged therapy session to tease out the connective tissues. The deal was negotiated for Tribeca Film by Alison Diviney, manager of acquisitions, along with Nick Savva, vice president of acquisitions, and UTA Independent Film Group on behalf of the filmmakers. Some of the subjects are clearly willing to take the plunge: Nick Swardson talks frankly about entering rehab as a teenager, Maria Bamford touchingly explains the relief at letting go of the shame over spending time in a psychiatric facility, and Short spins a rueful and witty tale of suffering a minor nervous breakdown over the success of a peer (Bill Murray, if you’re into name-checking, as Pollak seems to be).

It’s symbolic of the film overall that current “Tonight Show” host Jimmy Fallon spends the most time discussing the highs of making people laugh, without ever saying anything to dispel his happy-go-lucky image. Ultimately, the pic’s biggest selling point — all these famous faces, perfect to list en masse on a poster or VOD cast list — also works against it. Freddie Prinze Jr. is open and honest about the suicide of his actor-comedian father, but since he was barely a year old at the time and went down a different path himself, he’s a questionable spokesman for the dark side of comedians. While tech credits are generally pro, the interview with David appears to have been captured on the fly via a low-definition camera, and included simply for name value. The more faces that appear, the more difficult it is to ignore that we’re hearing overwhelmingly from white men, adding to the feeling that the film is basically an excuse to hang out with the old boys’ club instead of learning anything revealing about the members.

Brooks, Rob Brydon, Bobby Cannavale, Jemaine Clement, Steve Coogan, Larry David, Jimmy Fallon, Jon Favreau, Janeane Garofalo, Whoopi Goldberg, Christopher Guest, Tom Hanks, Chris Hardwick, Jim Jefferies, Penn Jillette, Lisa Kudrow, Richard Lewis, William H.

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